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Gambling raids target machines using software from Haltom City company
Police raids in several states, including Texas, have targeted what authorities consider gambling machines that rely on software made in Haltom City.
The software designer says the platform it provides for gaming machines is purely entertainment. Players receive tokens for playing casino-themed that company officials liken to sweepstakes. But they say winning one of the video games doesn't increase the odds of winning a prize. Designers also say game tokens are free for those who ask.
"The video games are an entertaining way to reveal what prize was awarded during the sweepstakes" game, said Chris Canard, owner and president.
But last week, authorities in South Carolina confiscated 10 to 30 machines running the software, a company official said. Hest also has run afoul of law enforcement in North Carolina and San Antonio.
The computers used to generate proceeds violate South Carolina law, Hardeeville Police Chief Richard Nagy told the Beaufort Gazette.
"Customers would pay cash and receive tokens to play games of chance," said Nagy, noting that each computer featured 13 games. Calls by the Star-Telegram to the state, county and local law enforcement authorities were not returned.
Canard said authorities there are wrong.
"Do we provide software that could be characterized as a gambling device in South Carolina? The answer is no," Canard said.
In San Antonio last year, police confiscated equipment using Hest software, saying it was used in illegal gambling. A lawsuit over the seizure is ongoing, a company official said. Hest is not a party to the lawsuit.
Haltom City is an odd spot for such software to be designed. Police have made headlines by raiding eight-liner businesses there. In one raid, police arrested seven people and seized 25 eight-liners.
Police Chief Keith Lane said that because of the focus on eight-liners, his officers and city code enforcement have checked "basically checked every business in Haltom City" for illegal gaming machines. He said he is not aware of any machines with this software being used in his city.
"We know about them," Lane said. "It was brought to my attention probably right when we started hitting eight-liners heavy."
A official said some machines are operating at Tarrant County convenience stores but was unsure where.Tarrant County sheriff's spokesman Terry Grisham said it is not illegal to make or own devices that can be used for gambling. "Only in operation of the machine ... [can] you reach a threshold of illegality," he said.
Still, Grisham was skeptical about the claim that the machines are not gambling devices, though he has not had first-hand experience with them.
"I will say that in the experience we've had, I've heard of a duck called many things," he said. "You can put dresses on them and tuxedoes on them and lipstick on them, and they're still going to sound and walk like a duck."
Canard acknowledges that his casino games are in the same venues as some equipment used for illegal gambling, which makes it challenging for police to make the distinction. But he compares his games to other sweepstakes, such as those at McDonald's.
"We're simply bringing the computer from the residence into the venue," he said.
Cmpany officials also say a Dec. 8, 2009, letter from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission legitimizes their claims. The letter says that if gaming is conducted in one location as the company described. "the sweepstakes promotion is permissible for Texas."
A commission spokeswoman said the letter doesn't give blanket authority for all related machines to operate in the state.
They are a privately held and employs about 60 people in its Haltom City operation and sales office in Richland Hills, Canard said. The company started in 1997, he said.
While the business is for-profit, Canard says proceeds from the games benefit nonprofits.
The gaming machines seized in South Carolina were meant to benefit Skyeward Bound Ranch, which has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from donations made through the machines, according to company officials.
Skyeward, based in Cedar Hill, assists children who have special needs or are terminally ill, said President Dalace-Skye Duvall.
Duvall said that since the charity started its relationship with them roughly three years ago, it has gone from sponsoring two to three cruises a year for children and their families, to 19 over the next year.
Last year, the charity spent nearly $163,000 on cruises for autistic children and their families, according to its tax forms.
Skyeward and another nonprofit are the organizations suing in San Antonio over the forfeiture of equipment with the software.
Darren Barbee, 817-390-7126
Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/10...#ixzz1cBH2q9u1
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